Council considers next steps for fire levy

By Sheryl Roadcap -

SIDNEY — The next steps concerning the failed fire levy were further discussed Monday night during the Sidney City Council workshop session meeting.

During Monday’s ongoing discussion about how to fund the Sidney Department of Fire & Emergency Services’s needs, members agreed it is important for the issue to be better explained to the public.

City Manager Mark Cundiff reminded council Sidney voters turned down a permanent 0.15 percent income tax increase for fire operations on Nov. 5. The vote tally was 1,493 in favor, or 40.1 percent, to 2,140 against, or 58.9 percent.

During council’s last discussion held in December, city staff presented information on the city’s 2020-24 five-year plan and the proposed 2020 city budget to see if there is a way to finance the construction, equipping and on-going operation of a third fire station without an increase to the income tax rate. The presentation showed the plan had projected a 2.1 percent decrease at the end of 2019, but the decrease was actually 6.5 percent, due to an unexpected decrease in direct collections and flat growth in withholding. Finance Officer Ginger Adams said without passage of the five levy, the income tax receipts would need to grow an average 7.5 percent per year each year in 2020-24 to cover the additional costs of the third fire station. Only once, in years 1994-98, she said the the city’s income tax receipts had a five-year average that high, of 8.0 percent.

Council members were collectively uncomfortable with touching city budget funds to pay for the fire department’s needs.

City staff presented another option of adding three additional firefighters at Station 1. The option would not improve response times but would add one person to each shift that would help with manpower due to department’s high call volume.

Cundiff also reminded council members the Shelby Economic Partnership (SSEP) offered to facilitate a community meeting on the fire levy. A similar outreach was done between SSEP and Sidney Alive regarding downtown Sidney. The consensus of council members was to take SSEP up on the offer to hold the meeting and hopefully learn why voters did not support the levy.

Cundiff informed council Monday the deadline had already passed to place the fire levy on the March election ballot. All members agreed to put the levy on the November ballot.

Council member Steve Wagner said “the people have spoken at the polls” and council had not done a good enough job educating the public on the need for the levy. He pointed out the fire department’s high call volume and said the city needs to address misleading and false information being put out by those against the levy. He also felt the SSEP community meeting would be helpful.

Council member Jenny VanMatre agreed with Wagner and said they need to get the levy back on the ballot as possible. “I think that if we let the conversation die, then the community will think, ‘They weren’t really serious,’ or question ‘How bad is the need.’”

Council member Ed Hamaker also agreed with Wagner about the true need at the fire department, the need to hold meetings to better educate citizens, and also to take up SSEP on their offer. He noted people often compare Sidney to Piqua and that the city should explain why Sidney is not like Piqua. Mayor Mike Barhorst said he is unclear why people compare Sidney to Piqua in some ways but not in other ways. He pointed out that Piqua does not have the industry Sidney has.

Council member Darryl Thurber said he also agreed with the comments made by council members and City Council should make a strong case to refute the misleading information going out to citizens against the levy.

Barhorst agreed they should take SSEC’s offer and see what happens, but he pointed out neither council members or city staff would be present.

Cundiff said SSEC is working to organize the community meeting for some time during the first quarter of the year.

In other business, Cundiff said there will not be a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting in January, but reviewed the cases on the agenda for the Jan. 21, Planning Commission meeting. He also went over the prospective City Council agenda items for the next 30 days.

At the end of the meeting, Barhorst shared he surprisingly had not received any parking complaints during the time the city lifted the time restraints on parking in the downtown during the holiday season. He was also unaware of any other complaints brought forth to city officials and questioned if they should consider removing the parking restrictions in the downtown permanently. Cundiff said he will see if Sidney Alive received any complaints about parking at their next meeting on Wednesday.

Council also went into an executive session to consider the appointment of a public official and the discipline of a public employee. No action was taking by council when members emerged from the session.

By Sheryl Roadcap

Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.